A clickbait reality?

It is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers without understanding the hidden agendas of the message and myths surround it – John Pilger

It’s one of those clarity moments, in the midst of a chaos. It’s that oh sh*t feeling that makes me questioning my media-shaped worldview, a realisation that I got after reading the many one sided coverage by major media outlets and their journalists on the RUU protests.

For a start, there’s hardly any balanced arguments (like why do we need a watchdog for KPK vs why that would be a bad thing), almost no explanation for the before-and-after comparison on RUU KUHP, and if they provide any larger context and/or arguments on the government intentions with the RUU (and weight them based on their merits) it is done scarcely.

No, instead all we get is the romanticised picture of idealistic students who are trying to save the country from an increasingly authoritarian government that creates idiotic RUU. The anarchist students? They cry foul when they are arrested after attempting to break the law, and reported in the media as the innocent being beaten by the repressive police. The biased and provocative journalists and activists? The media focused on their arrests by the regime, and how that move is violating the free press, and not on the damages these people potentially may have caused. Like in the case of provocative Veronica Koman who unapologetically pro West Papua independence, spreading hoaxes that actually ignited riots and separatist movements – but of course later on apologised for the whoopsie – but doesn’t really provide any clear solution for the complex problem in West Papua other than just provoking for independence now!

And what about those social justice warriors who actually have read and understood the law? Instead of using their platform to educate, they regrettably tend to attack, provoke, and insult those who have opposing views, in a condescending tone that would make Robert Cialdini cringe. Even the respected names in global media only show the videos and pictures of the clash between the police and the students, the beatings, and the arrests, with very minimum background context (only show the effect, not the cause and the provocation).

So naturally this whole episode got me thinking, are the global current affairs problems not that relatively straight forward after all? Because the line in the sand looks pretty clear in cases like Rohingya case, the Kashmir conflict, the Brexit debates, the Hong Kong protest, the Amazon forest fire, the Uighur oppression, but are they just another oversimplification by the media? Why are they seemingly able to give much needed context and understanding on the complicated case of, say, Yemen conflict or Israel-Palestine never ending battle, but seems only able to one-sidedly report on the Indonesian problem?

Don’t get me wrong, I also don’t agree with most of the points in RUU KUHP and the other RUU, they look hugely unbalanced and seems like profiting only, well, the lawmakers and their cronies. It’s not lost on me that Ma’ruf Amin is publicly contradicting Jokowi and why the parliament are rushing to sign the RUU before their term expires next month, which indicate a vested interest by a certain group (just look at who protested the loudest when Jokowi postponed the signing of RUU KUHP). I’m also not suggesting that journalists are not the victim of an increasingly unreasonable law enforcement (the arrest of Dandhy Laksono is baffling, and it’s the last thing the government should do in the middle of this tension).

What I am saying is that the real world is complicated, where there is no black and white, only different shades of greys. Hence it would be best if the media can educate the mass on the complicated reality, rather than oversimplifying it almost to the level of a movie mentality (where there is a clear distinction between the good guys and the bad guys), and fuelling and/or enhancing the anger along the way.

Because the real truth is messy, and nobody is a saint in this scenario. For example, in the more obvious case of KPK. In practice, as much as we absolutely need a corruption watchdog the KPK is currently indeed abusing their God-like power. Because in an environment where almost every (if not all) politicians are dirty, they say KPK becomes a platform to attack political opponents. Because from around 3000+ cases, and within the supervision of only 5 commissioners, they only blow up selected few cases that have prominent names on it for publication purposes (and even then they tend not to further investigate and arrest the web of crooks), and allegedly settle on big blackmail money for the remaining majority.

Because as idiotic as it sounds, KPK’s corruption watch is indeed slowing down investments, simply because in the system where bribery is the sad reality, almost nobody is willing to take any risk to make a deal when there’s a chance of being busted and extorted for money by, you guess who (an ugly reality not explained or argued by the media, but only reported without context that made Moeldoko looked like someone who is disconnected from reality).

Indeed, instead of addressing these problems, by providing the pros and cons and the potential solutions, the media seemingly just dumb it down to merely “the corrupt government and parliament are trying to weaken the corruption watchdog.” No wonder that the ill-informed masses are angry.

Thus, in the age where clickbaits are the new normal, and sensationalised news pay the bills for these media, I’m starting to question how many of their coverage are actually genuine reporting, how many come from seemingly biased anti-establishment (or pro-establishment) mentality, and how many are hugely edited and adapted to satisfy their financial backers or fit their for-profit motives (more sensations, more news)?

Because being [admirably] idealistic is one thing, but withholding half of the information to accommodate a biased agenda is a grave crime in this information age. And they should remember that the role of the media is not to choose a side but to fully inform the public of what’s really going on, while providing the many sides of the argument.

Thomas Jefferson once said that information is the currency of democracy. And right now, the currency feels rigged.